It’s my first day back at BLES and I am over-the-moon excited about what has taken place. As promised, Katherine had a sturdy exercise/training pen constructed and a raised concrete platform for foot trimming. With everything well in place and the mahouts briefed on the plans, Pang Suai made her way to the foot trimming platform. At first she was apprehensive about walking to the edge of the platform. Snaking her trunk over the side examining the distance between herself and the ground, she hesitated to get too close to the edge. The mahouts were fabulous, one on her neck in a position she finds familiar and another at her side reassuring her that she was okay. No elephant hooks, knives, nails or weapon were used, only patience and the talent developed over years of being with this elephant. It is an honor to work with these mahouts.
Uncharacteristic of other elephants whom I have provided pedicures for, Pang Suai preferred that I trim her back feet instead of her front. This is unusual but I accepted her preference. After she relaxed into the back foot trims, we were able to trim her front nails and pads.
Her pads and nails are healthy and only slightly overgrown, no cracks or serious decayed areas. Her cuticles were little overgrown but the pedicure took care of that. Like proud parents the mahouts could not stop bragging about how beautiful Pang Suai’s feet were. One mahout commented that her feet were so beautiful he would ask her to marry him!
Still aglow from the success of the foot trimming session, I was told that Mee Chok would soon be available for his training session. With a bucket of cut bananas and a flexible target pole in hand, we made our way over to the training area. Mee Chok had just emerged from a refreshing swim in the pond with Lom and Pang Tong. All three made the gradual climb up to the empty elephant stalls. The elephants don’t stay in the stalls so it’s a bit of a ghost town with empty stalls dotting the area.
With a little encouragement Mee Chok and his adopted family entered the stall, curious about the new enclosure. Stoic Pang Tong stayed at the far end while Lom and Mee Chok engaged in the new training activity. Mee Chok was full of energy, moving around a lot but always returning to the area of activity, which was the target, whistle and banana treats. He and Lom did well, and he started to get the idea after only 15 minutes. I did have to laugh at all the distractions, which in other training environments would be squelched — electric saws at a construction site, staff discussing their morning duties and a large delivery truck dropping off supplies. The elephants were aware and responded to the different distractions but continued to show interest in the training.
That was the morning session, Mee Chok’s first session.
When Kat asked how I felt Mee Chok did, I said he did well, by the end of the session grasping the concept of the training. My guess was that he would spend the next few hours pondering the activity.
Wow, did he ever ponder. When the family arrived for the second session, Mee Chok immediately responded to the “target” request. He had it! I pointed the spongy end of the target toward the stall and said “target.” Without hesitation, moving at a fast clip, singularly focused, Mee Chok walked right up and placed his forehead square on the target. BINGO, he got it!
What came next was so exciting, a firestorm of activity driven by his comprehension of the game. What a joy to see Mee Chok engage in this game, so foreign but so stimulating. In no time he was striking the target with his feet at the word “talle.” And then he decided that if one foot on the horizontal bar was good enough to get a piece of banana, two feet must be even better. Was he ever proud of himself, and I was filled with joy knowing that yet another baby elephant in Thailand will benefit from positive reinforcement training.
The mahouts were smiling from ear to ear and giving us the thumbs ups. They could not have been more pleased. The session continued for about fifteen minutes with Mee Chok fully engaged and anxious to learn more. To say this was a good day would be an understatement!